Tag Archive: bioculturalism


the other biocultural studies

Following from the last entry: I should have mentioned the other kind of biocultural studies that’s been getting more & more attention recently: see here, here, and here.

The “Biocultures Manifesto,” which appeared in New Literary History back in 2007, seemed to suggest that it was time for all the work on embodiment, biopolitics (Foucauldian, Agambenian, etc.), and various efforts in science studies and cross-over areas of cognitive science to lead to something fairly radical, and ended with this series of bullet-point “provocative assaults” on received wisdom:

* Science and humanities are incomplete without each other.

* It is untrue that the humanities are the realm of values and the sciences the realm of facts.

* Science isn’t hard and the humanities aren’t soft.

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One of the impressive recent efforts to bring the physical sciences and the social sciences and humanities back onto “consilient” speaking terms (to use E. O. Wilson’s terminology, though his own efforts at this have been unimpressive) is Wendy Wheeler’s The Whole Creature: Complexity, Biosemiotics and the Evolution of Culture. Wheeler is a humanist, an English lit specialist whose work emerges out of the Raymond Williams tradition of British cultural studies, and her foray into biosemiotics and complexity science is highly original and ambitious. She’s an editor at British Left-political cultural studies journal New Formations , having produced special issues on complexity and ecocriticism in recent years. Complexity research has been making some waves in sociological and cultural theory circles for a while now (e.g., in Theory Culture & Society), but biosemiotics is more of a newcomer on these intellectual (humanistic/culturological) shores. The book is blurbed by leading biosemiotician Jesper Hoffmeyer, author of, among other things, Signs of Meaning in the Universe (Indiana U. Press, 1996).

While I’ve only read parts of the book (and a few outtakes in other venues) and am not qualified to comment on its use of complexity theory or biosemiotics, it’s heartening to see Donald Favareau’s very favorable extended review, “Understanding Natural Constructivism” in Semiotica, which has been a leading venue for biosemiotic research and theory for several years. I strongly recommend it both as a summary of Wheeler’s book and as an introduction to biosemiotics.

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